Chamber Music Days
Suddenly, chamber music is having a field day in the 805. To be more exact, make that three consecutive days, from three different and significant sources in the area. The very term “chamber” was, from 1977 to 2019, a prominent feature of the annual Lobero Theatre’s calendar, when the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra (SBCO) existed as Santa Barbara’s “other” orchestra on many an inspiring Tuesday night.
Three years ago, the SBCO was felled by fiscal forces, but a new Chamber Music Project, led by the orchestra’s long-standing maestro, Heiichiro Ohyama, rekindles fond memories. Chamber Tuesday is back, in the form of a special concert featuring Ohyama as violist (the role in which he played with the L.A. Phil) and special guest musicians. The October 18 opening of the intermittent series features Ohyama with pianist Lucille Chung, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and cellist Edward Arron taking on Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E flat and Fauré’s Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor. See lobero.org/events/lobero-theatre-chamber-music-project.
Sunday afternoon in Ojai brings on the 10th anniversary of the series known as Chamber on the Mountain, in the picturesque Logan House of the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, in upper Ojai. Cellist Anita Graef and pianist Louise Chan perform in this kick-off concert on October 16, in a program ranging from George Gershwin to Beethoven, Amy Beach, Mendelssohn and Franck. See chamberonthemountain.com.
On Monday, October 17, another long-standing and highly recommended chamber tradition starts a new season in the clement venue of Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s intimate Mary Craig Auditorium. This cherished series often focuses on string quartets of some international renown, which defines the Aeolus Quartet, serving up a meal of Beethoven, Schubert and contemporary heroine Caroline Shaw. See sbma.net/events/aeolus-20221017.
Looking ahead, the venerable Camerata Pacifica begins to kick up its own chamber music dust and muster with its season-opening concert at the Hahn Hall on Friday, October 21. See cameratapacifica.org/concerts.
Hometown Boy Makes Good, on an Epic Scale
A prominent and slightly ominous sign is perched on the side of the Santa Barbara Bowl stage, reading “No Moshing or Crowd-Surfing.” We’re happy to report that the sign had zero relevance when Jack Johnson settled in for his eagerly anticipated two-night run there, although surf culture is interwoven into his being and fan base, and the side stage party resembled a nosh pit.
Whenever Johnson plays the Bowl, it’s a special occasion, especially after the pandemic’s rained-out live music parade. He speaks to us directly, as one of showbiz’s more down-to-earth mega-stars who never forgets his salad days playing at Roy, as a UCSB student obsessed with surfing, surf filmmaking, and, oh yes, making music on the side. His charter member pals, drummer Adam Topol and bassist Merlo Podlewski, snugly fit into and help define the Johnson sound. Zach Gill served up sonic goods on vintage keyboards in the margins and came up front for a squeezebox solo — he’s helping make the music world safe for accordion. The super-fine new album, Meet the Moonlight, was produced by the slightly cryptic and generously gifted Blake Mills, who came out to sit in for a few tunes (For extra-credit listening pleasure, check out Mills’s brilliant instrumental project with Pino Palladino, Notes with Attachments, released in 2021 and a quietly bedazzling jazz/not-jazz outing).
Late in the loose-ended Tuesday-night concert last week, Johnson spun out his tale of playing poker with Willie Nelson and pitifully losing — the game and his dough. First, Johnson played Willie’s comic (or is it comic?) classic “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” before launching into his own witty “Willie Nelson Got Me Stoned and Stole all My Money.” Jack Johnson’s saga has many angles, including the wry tale-spinner.
The Willie Nelson Segue
Fast-forward slightly to Sunday night, when the outlaw country/C&W deity Willie himself hit the stage of Paso Robles’ Vina Robles Amphitheatre, singing said anthem to a happy and sometimes cowboy-behatted crowd, joining in the catchy chorus: “Roll me up and smoke me when I die.” Willie, the original and tireless road warrior, was more than cabin-feverish over the lockdown, as reported in a recent New York Times magazine story, and he’s, well, on the road again. As he does. His longtime partner, his pianist sister Bobbie, has passed on, but his son Micah — a versatile talent and a part-time crackpot — carries on the family connection in the band.
He didn’t make it to the Bowl this year, but when he’s playing in the next town — in a venue as stellar as Vina Robles, no less — a pilgrimage is in order. Although he plays similar, and compact sets, no Willie concert is the same, thanks to his jazz-musician-like impulse to embrace the moment and phrasing, with his iconic voice and on his beautifully battered, life-worn, nylon-stringed guitar.
Willie is aging gracefully and with self-aware wit, as when his bandmate son Micah sings his song (its hook filched from Dad), “If I’m high when I die, I’m halfway to heaven,” or when Willie sings, on his wonderful new album A Beautiful Time, “Dusty bottles pour finer wine.” Novelty songs and classics aside, he remains a heat-melting balladeer, as he demonstrated on his ageless “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and especially “You Are Always on My Mind.”
When you’re a Willie fan, the love keeps giving. Forget the old adage “Willie for President.” Anybody can be president, apparently. I say “Willie for Pope.”
TO-DOINGS: A hearty fine Bowl season comes to its close, with the Wednesday, October 19, Death Cab for Cutie show… The Linda Lindas, the celebrated and unique all-girl group outta Los Angeles, are next up in the UCSB A&L season, at Campbell Hall on Saturday, October 15 … Blues-soul master Robert Cray, a longtime Santa Ynez resident, does his own “homecoming gig,” at the Solvang Festival Theater on Friday, October 14.